Saturday Psalm Series: An Introduction to Psalm 88

Light in the Midst of Darkness

O LORD, God of my salvation,
I cry out day and night before you.
Psalm 88:1

In Medio Tenebras Lux

On June 5, 2022, terrorists attacked St. Francis Catholic Church in Nigeria. Dozens of worshippers were killed, and the priest himself was kidnapped. There were images of people wailing amid pools of blood. In response to a people in the midst of mourning and sadness, the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, gave a statement of encouragement: “No matter what, this country shall never give in to evil and wicked people, and darkness will never overcome light.”1 We often find this use of the imagery of light and darkness in the political realm. Another example is President Biden’s inauguration address, where he declared that he would be “an ally of the light not the darkness.”2 But what do these statements really mean? What is the light? What is the darkness? For Christians, these kinds of questions have a definitive answer. Rather than a rallying cry or a general statement of poetic comfort, the themes of darkness and light point us to the truth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

At the time of the Reformation these terms of darkness and light served to describe the coming of the Reformation, Post Tenebras Lux. “After darkness, light” described the impact of the teachings of the Reformation. Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and so many other reformers were pointing God’s people to the light of God’s Word, after centuries of wandering blind in the darkness.

Yet this phrase was fitting not merely for the time of the Reformation. Looking back to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ we see the most dramatic appearance of light coming after darkness. Centuries of silence occurred during the intertestamental period—the light of God’s Word had dimmed in the darkness of silence. Then in John’s Gospel we are clearly shown that the darkness was coming to an end; for in Christ, the light had come. John proclaimed:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:5–9)

Furthermore, when we look forward to the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we can truly proclaim post tenebras lux. For we are told at the end of Revelation that darkness shall be no more. John proclaims that, “night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:5).

Throughout the history of the Christian faith, post tenebras lux has always been a wonderful phrase to remember and proclaim. But what then should be made of the times of tenebras? How should we view the time period preceding the Reformation? Were the dark ages, solely darkness? Had all been lost for a time? Were there centuries of total blindness before people began to see again? What should we make of the intertestamental period itself? Was it a time where God’s people were all alone? And what about today, as we await Christ’s return? Are there ever times when you find yourself wondering if we are back in the darkness? It is easy to think this when we see God’s Word being ignored and flouted. Too often the truth of creation and the Creator are doubted. People scoff at the wages of sin, and the very need for a Savior is denied. In many ways the darkness seems to be returning. When we see the tenebras and fear the lux is being snuffed out, where do we turn?

We should certainly replay that rally cry from the Nigerian President, “darkness will never overcome light,” but then we need to realize how much more meaningful this statement is for those who trust in the Word of God. We cannot fear darkness when we possess a light that cannot be overcome. Therefore, even when we turn to arguably the darkest passage of Scripture, Psalm 88, we should still consider how the light of the gospel shines through. So let us plunge into the darkness of Psalm 88 and discover how the good news gives us light not solely after darkness, for He is our light even amid darkness. In medio tenebras lux, light in the midst of darkness, is the truth we must cling to as we journey throughout Psalm 88. It is this brilliant truth that makes Psalm 88 one of my favorite psalms, indeed one of my favorite texts of Scripture. The psalmist pulls no punches when he shows how rough the darkness can be on this side of glory. He reminds us that even in our bleakest moments, the darkness cannot overcome the light.

Though we may be shocked by the bleakness of the psalmist’s cry, we must remember one thing from the outset, this psalm is God’s very Word to us. This poem is not a record of complaints, nor is it a historical journal of despair. It is the living, breathing, inspired, infallible word of God. Immediately, we are pointed to the great power of the Word and prayer. While we may be tempted to say Psalm 88 is just a prayer from a place of darkness, we must not be blind to how the light of His Word still applies even in what seems to be unrelieved despair. After all, Psalm 88 has the same DNA as its 149 companions in the Psalter—it is an inspired song that the Lord has given to his people. They all share the penetrating and powerful light of God’s Word. As the psalmist proclaims in Psalm 119:105, 130: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path…The unfolding of your words gives light.” At first glance, we may be tempted just to skip over Psalm 88, but this starting point of the Word as light helps prepare us for even the darkest readings in Scripture.

Furthermore, we are reminded that this psalm is light by the very fact that it is a prayer. This truth applies to all 150 psalms as well. Whether a particular psalm has a theme of despair, delight, triumph, persecution, peace, anger, adoration, sadness, or gladness, they all are prayers of light. For as Paul calls us to put on the armor of light (Romans 13:12), he also highlights how this very armor includes the importance of prayer (Ephesians 6:18). Even in the darkest moments of life, we can call upon the Lord of our salvation. Therefore, call to Him, fellow Christians. Before we confront any of the darkness ahead, take the beginning of Psalm 88 as a summons to pray and to look upon the light of His Word: “O LORD, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before you” (Psalm 88:1). Only when we cling to the light of our salvation, Jesus Christ our Lord, are we prepared to face the darkness created by sin and misery.

In the weeks ahead my hope is to reflect on this deeply comforting truth of light in the midst of darkness. We will consider how this light shines right from the psalmist’s opening, then with that foundation we will go on to examine how the darkness seems to penetrate the whole body of the psalm. In conclusion, we will consider how even in the greatest moments of darkness, the light yet shines.

©Robert Godfrey. All Rights Reserved.

You can find the whole series on Psalm 88 here.





    Post authored by:

  • Robert Godfrey
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    Reverend Robert M. Godfrey is a pastor serving Zeltenreich Reformed Church (URCNA) in New Holland, PA since April of 2016. He received a Master of Divinity in 2007 from Westminster Seminary California and a Doctor of Ministry from Ligonier Academy in 2017. Robert met his wife Catherine in California where they were married in 2008, and they have been blessed with three little girls.

    More by Robert Godfrey ›

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